The Pioneer MTB stage race has now reached Lake Hawea close to Wanaka, New Zealand. The riders have now have close to 450km in their legs and some serious tales of struggle, suffering, spectacle, disappointment and victory up their sleeves. Today’s stage was suggested to be the ‘Queen Stage’ of this tour with 112km and 3 578m of elevation to be gained from 5 severe mountain climbs. The leaders of each category have stuck true to the form of earlier this week, with leaders jersey’s in the 7 day epic remaining unchanged. However, there are many close battles among the minor placings for many categories. With plenty of prize money on the line, racing has been fierce from start to finish each day. Full results can be viewed here.
Today’s journey took riders from the campsite atop Lake Ohau airstrip and along the newly formed ‘Alps 2 Ocean’ MTB path for the first 20km before taking on a number of punishing backcountry climbs on the way to the way to the state highway rest area of Lindis Pass. the climbs that this race take rider’s over will and are testing the most hardy of competitors. Many rider’s today and yesterday would be forgiven for thinking they had mistakenly booked a famous New Zealand hiking trip over the Routeburn track. As the gradients have been so steep only those with extremely low gear ratio’s have been able to turn the pedal’s all the way up some climbs. After another two of these excruciatingly painful climbs rider’s were given a hair raising descent to the feed station at Lindis Pass. With only 38km to go from this point, the end seemed achievable. However, after a right hand turn off a sealed road an ominous sight lay ahead. 20km of climbing up a grassy farm paddock, this took most riders over 90minutes to conquer. At this point for myself anyway it was survival mode engaged. This was a long, hard day after a previous 4 long, hard day’s many rider’s are now feeling the pinch of a brutal but brilliant stage race!
As well as the sharp competition that is on hand at this race should you choose to get involved with the pointy end of the results, the main appeal seems to be the sense of adventure that can be achieved from completing this race. Not many races offer you access to the type of wilderness areas and scenery that you encounter on this race. Whilst reaching the absolute depths of suffering from merely completing these abhorrently difficult stages it has been epic to witness the scenery that is on hand over the course.
Team Subaru-marathonMTB.com is hanging in there in the open men division. Impromptu flat tyre’s have become common for nearly all teams in this race, struck as again. Mike and I have been working well together complimenting each other in different elements of the course. With everything in perspective, getting to the finish line of this race is a realistic goal and a remarkable achievement in itself. Tomorrow we have another climbing day to the village of ‘Snow Farm’ edging closer to the finishing town of Queenstown.